Authors: M L Gardner
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Historical, #Short Stories & Anthologies, #Anthologies, #Anthologies & Literature Collections, #Historical Fiction
The Complete Second Season
A 1929 Serial
Table of Contents:
“Back in Black”
Arianna grabbed her copy of Modern Romance magazine off the porch railing and fanned herself aggressively.
“It really shouldn’t be this hot.”
Claire, seeking refuge from the sun, made her way over to the shaded corner.
“Any sprouts yet?” Ava asked as she passed the porch swing. It moved slowly with a repetitive, high-pitched creak that had been grinding on Arianna’s last nerve for several moments.
“Not one. I have the worst luck with growing things. I’ll be so disappointed if I lose half my garden. Again.” Claire slumped against the side of the house, her eyes in the general direction of the plot in question.
“You’re doing everything we’re doing with watering… fertilizer, we planted at the same time, I don’t understand. I had all my tomatoes and squash sprout last week.” She didn’t intend to brag and hoped it wasn’t received that way.
Claire shrugged sloppily, letting herself momentarily long for the days when none of this was an issue. Food didn’t come from a survival garden; it was plentiful, as was the money to buy it. She looked down at her hands reddened from work, dirt under her short nails, and three knuckles were scraped raw. She also let herself momentarily miss the days of pampering at the ladies spa. She hadn’t been overindulgent during what they now referred to as ‘
the rich years
.’ Not nearly as indulgent as Arianna had been, practically living at the spa when she wasn’t on a partying tear. But still, her hands never looked anything close to this. They used to be ladies hands. She sighed a little too heavily, and it caught the attention of the others. She spoke before they could ask.
“I was just thinking of how we started calling our old life ‘the rich years’ a few months back. I don’t know who started that.”
Arianna raised her hand. “What of it?”
“Well, it just seems like we’ve accepted that those days are over, and they’re never coming back.”
Arianna choked back a snort. “You’re just now figuring that out?”
Claire glared while Ava shot Arianna a disapproving frown. “There’s no need to be nasty just because you’re hot.”
“I’m not nasty because I’m hot. In fact, I’m not being nasty at all. I’m just surprised, is all.” Arianna resumed fanning herself.
“Claire,” Ava said turning toward her. “To be honest, I have accepted it. This is the way things are now, and while I think things will get better with time, I don’t think we’ll ever see anything close to that life again.”
Claire sighed again, looking away. “I guess I’ve always known that, too. I just never wanted to face it. To really face it.”
Arianna’s sharp blue eyes narrowed, and the magazine stopped. “We need a girl’s night. Preferably a girl’s night
” She wiggled her eyebrows.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Claire moaned. “There’re the children to think about, and anything fun costs money. And what would we wear?”
Arianna huffed and dropped a hand on her hip. “Our husbands can watch the children. I’m sure we all can come up with a few dimes each, and who cares what you wear. We’ll be having fun together not trying to catch a man.”
Ava noticed her carefully worded sentence.
Who cares what you wear
—which meant she, of course, would be dressed to the nines.
She reached over and nudged Claire. “Why don’t we do it? We could use some time away to relax.”
“Where to? A picnic on the beach, passing a bottle between us?”
Arianna’s eyebrow cocked. “While that’s not a half bad idea, I thought we’d be more daring than that. I heard about a house not far from here. I can drive us. They have music, dancing, and practically anything you want to drink.”
Both Ava and Claire had visible apprehension. “A speakeasy… what if it’s busted while we’re there?”
“What are the odds?” Arianna asked. “Besides, this place has kept a real low profile and been in business for nearly a year.”
“How on earth do you know about this?” Ava asked.
Arianna turned away with a sly smile. “I keep up on things.”
“The young man who does the stocking at the grocery is all starry-eyed over her,” Claire said.
Arianna pursed her lips and Claire returned a defiant smile. “She does nothing to discourage him, of course—quite the opposite. Dresses fine as can be. Perfume, earrings, and everything, just to go get a few cans of beans or some baking soda.”
They were locked in a vicious but loving glare. Arianna knew she had it coming for her earlier rudeness. The unspoken rules of their friendship dictated how she couldn’t say anything nasty back because they were now technically even. And Arianna always kept score.
“Do you mean the boy with the shaved head and lazy eye?” Ava laughed.
“No!” Arianna said, stomping her foot. “The other young one. He’s tall with dark hair.”
“You are positively shameless. That boy isn’t even eighteen!” Ava cried, now suffering from fits of intermittent laughter.
“Well, shameless or not, I know the goings on in this town, and I say we go have fun.” She slapped the magazine back down on the porch rail.
“Why not?” Claire asked. “It’s better than sitting around wondering why my garden won’t grow.”
“I’ll go,” Ava said, still grinning madly at Arianna, a part of her dying to get home to tell Jonathan about Arianna’s latest scandal.
“Don’t tell Jonathan,” Arianna said, obviously reading her mind. “If you do, he’ll tell Aryl, who’ll tell Caleb, and then I’ll have to deal with
“Honestly, Caleb wouldn’t be concerned about an underage boy’s crush, would he?” Ava asked.
“He’d be concerned the way she walks around that store with her shoulders pulled so far back, they’re almost touching,” Claire said coolly.
Arianna held up the rolled magazine in threat. “I do not.”
Ava giggled. “The last few times I’ve been here, you’ve kept that magazine closer than your children. Is it good?”
“Yes, it is. There are a few new hairstyles I want to try out on you before we go out.” She flipped it open and thumbed through slowly looking for the page.
“It’s a romance magazine. Do you read any of the stories, or do you just buy it for the pictures?”
“Of course, I read the stories. A girl has to get her heart racing somehow,” Arianna muttered as she continued to search. Claire and Ava exchanged a look.
“So, that’s why you’ve been so grumpy?” Claire asked. “Things not going well with Caleb?”
“Who?” Arianna looked up with a theatrical flair.
“Where is Caleb right now?” Ava asked.
“Who knows,” Arianna said. “Probably down at the hardware store talking about tractors or that stupid horse he bought that doesn’t do anything but eat…and shit.”
“At least that helps with the garden,” Claire offered.
Her eyes flashed up like lightning. “He tried to get me to stop buying my magazine to save money because that blasted horse eats so much. Can you believe that? I take care of his children and his crazy mother, and when he gets home, all he does is talk about the most boring things. That man has completely forgotten any sense of chivalry or romance.” She was seething now. “He’s forgotten how lucky he is to have me. And he’s turning into an old man right before my eyes! Give up my magazine… humph! How much more am I supposed to sacrifice?”
Ava stood up and marched over to Arianna, putting her hands on her shoulders. “You, my dear, need a girl’s night, and by God, you’ll have a girl’s night.”
Arianna’s head fell limply to the side. “Thank you. Can I drink?”
“As much as you want.”
Arianna was only allowed to relax momentarily. Ethel’s desperate scream rang out, causing them all to jump.
“Hurry! She’ll wake the children!” Claire said as Arianna dropped her magazine and sprang for the door.
Inside, Ethel was standing in the kitchen, completely naked, skeletal frame jerking and skittering, her head whipping around in horrified confusion.
“Help me get her to her room!”
Ava felt compelled to look away to preserve Ethel’s modesty but couldn’t if she were going to be of any help. She kept her eyes on her face as she reached and lunged for flying limbs.
“They’re everywhere! They’re everywhere!”
“What’s everywhere, Ethel?” Claire asked, struggling to hold on to her wrist.
“She’s seeing things,” Arianna growled. “Ignore what she says and help me get her upstairs.”
Ethel was indeed seeing things and whatever she saw terrified her to her marrow. It was clear that the faces she normally knew were now perceived as something frightfully threatening. She fought with every ounce of energy she could muster.
With Ava and Claire having a firm grasp on each arm, Arianna moved behind her to guide, or rather, push her upstairs to the safety of her room. Ethel’s knees buckled, and they all struggled to hold her up. She screamed again long and shrill, and when she stopped, they heard the children upstairs wailing, frightened and confused.
Ethel had a surge of energy, arching her back, pulling her arms into herself. Ava was caught off guard, and Ethel clamped her teeth down without warning. Shock registered before pain, and Ava pulled away, holding her bleeding arm, eyes wide.
“Help me!” Arianna yelled, struggling from behind.
A loud banging on the back door brought a sudden stop to all but Ethel, and they looked up. Beyond the door stood a very concerned looking David.
“Oh, thank God,” Arianna said helplessly.
David rushed in and took charge. He swooped Ethel up with one arm behind her waist, the other large hand holding her wrists in front of her, effectively halting her tantrum.
“I’ll show you to her room.”
Upstairs, Arianna led the way. Claire was close behind to soothe the children, and Ava saw to her wound, running copious amounts of water over her arm. The clear imprint of teeth was set, three of them dug so deep and jagged, they were bleeding.
“Would you like me to look at that?” a woman’s voice asked from behind. Ava jumped.
“Oh, I didn’t see you there,” she said. She was slight, blonde and held a small baby of mixed race in her left arm. Another child clung to her skirt, looking shyly at Ava.
“I’m Loretta, David’s wife, and I’m a nurse.”
“What luck,” Ava said and held her arm out. Blood trickled down the contours of her arm.
“Keep it under the water. Let it bleed as much as it will. Infections from human bites are nasty. You want to keep that from happening. Can I lay her in the living room?” she asked, lifting the small bundle.
After a moment, Loretta returned and pushed her sleeves up. “David’s had more bites than I can count. Only two got infected, and I was able to temper those, but I needed to lance them. Look for swelling, redness, drainage—all the usual signs. The bacteria in the mouth can be particularly aggressive, so you need to avoid it festering. I want you to wash this several times a day with hot soapy water.”
Loretta brought Ava’s arm from under the water and took a quick look. “She got you good. It might scar.”
From upstairs, they heard more scuffling. Ethel’s cries were growing weaker.
“She’s gotten so much worse,” Ava said softly.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Loretta said.
“Poor Arianna. I can’t imagine having to deal with this every day.”
“Have they thought about placing her somewhere safe?”
Before Ava could answer, David’s heavy footsteps echoed down the stairs, Arianna following solemnly.
He sat at the table while Arianna pulled out glasses for water, shaking, on the verge of tears.
“How often does she do this now?” David asked.
With her eyes shut and a glass squeezed in her hand, Arianna sighed. “Nearly every day.”
“It might be time to—”
“Caleb won’t hear of it,” she snapped quickly over her shoulder. “He won’t even
about it.” Her resentment at this was evident in her tone.
“Is Caleb here now?” David asked.
“I expect him home anytime.”
“Maybe I can talk to him. Get him to see reason.”
With a wave of her hand, Arianna went to the sink. “You’re welcome to try, but it won’t do any good.” She stopped cold when she saw Ava’s arm.
“I’m so sorry, Ava.”
Ian was offered to be the one to guide the recreational fishing tours. While it sounded interesting, different, and like much less work, he declined. Now that he had Peter, he was content to keep doing what he was doing but thanked Jonathan and Aryl for the opportunity.
Over the last several days, Ian had begun teaching Peter how to read charts so he could take a turn at the wheel and liked that Peter was a quick study. He rarely needed things repeated. Once the initial awkwardness of being new to one another had faded, Ian found they worked well together. Peter wasn’t an open book, but he was starting to share minor details of his life and Ian was growing more comfortable asking.